Shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered partial mobilization in his speech on September 21, large queues of Russians wanting to leave the country formed at the borders. It is unclear exactly how many there were, but it is reported that hundreds of thousands of people fled before being drafted into the war in Ukraine.

For some of them, Germany has become a target. Deutsche Welle was able to speak to people who made it to Germany as well as to volunteers who help the refugees.

Ilya lived in Yekaterinburg and worked in the car trade. On September 21, he listened to the President’s speech at work. “After that I immediately packed my things and resigned because I’m one of those who are normally called up first. I’m a sniper, combat vehicle commander and grenade launcher gunner. I am also required to report myself within 38 hours of a mobilization being ordered. I knew what it means to live in Russia. I didn’t want to gamble with my fate.”

Ilya is a nuclear physicist by training, but after graduating from university he decided to join the Russian army and do his military service. “I thought the army was something powerful, strong, amazing, but I found complete chaos there. A lot became clear to me in the army, including about our politics,” he says. All of his operational areas existed virtually only on paper, he was not taught anything in the army. As a soldier, Ilja says, he would be absolutely useless now.

Ilya drove from work to his dacha so as not to return home, where he is registered. From there he called his girlfriend. She helped him find two other men to go to Kazakhstan with. Already on the evening of September 22, the men left Sverdlovsk Oblast in the Urals and were at the border early in the morning.

“There was already a huge traffic jam. We spoke to people in line. Everyone supported each other,” Ilja recalls. Around noon they crossed the border. “The Kazakh official asked with a grin where we were going. We had made up a story beforehand: we were going to the mountains to see the snow. The border guard started laughing and so did we,” says Ilja.

The three men stayed in Kazakhstan for a few more days. Then Ilja flew to Cologne, where he applied for asylum. “I’ve been to Germany twice. I like the German mentality, their calm lifestyle and their friendliness. If I can stay in Germany and work or study, I will learn German. I would very much like to stay,” emphasizes Ilja.

Olga fled Russia to Germany on September 26. She didn’t want to wait until she was called up either. She worked as an epidemiologist in Moscow and after graduating from university in 2020 reported to the drafting office, because doctors in certain specialties are conscripted in Russia. “But I decided not to pick up my service record – in case war suddenly breaks out,” she explains.

“I know from the COVID period how our state treats its citizens – especially doctors. I was pregnant then. Even before graduating from university, we were pressured into working for free in COVID clinics under threat of not getting diplomas.”

Olga was born in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia. Her mother is from Mariupol, Ukraine, which is currently under Russian control. Her father is Russian with over 30 years of military experience. Due to his age, however, he is no longer threatened with conscription. “He supports this war,” regrets Olga. 20 years of propaganda are to blame. Everyone who is in the police and military would therefore “live in a world of their own”. “When the war started, our family split. Almost all my relatives on my mother’s side are affected, their homes were destroyed,” says Olga.

On February 24, she wrote a post on Instagram speaking out against the war. After just 40 minutes, her ex-husband received a call from his company’s security service, and an hour later, Olga’s father was also informed of her contribution.

“Both were asked to remain silent if they wanted to avoid problems, including being fired,” says Olga. She admits that she had already considered leaving the country in March, but that many personal problems prevented her from doing so.

But on September 21, Olga realized that she had to leave the country immediately. “Even doctors who shouldn’t have been mobilized were called up,” says Olga. Three days later she packed her bags and drove from Moscow to St. Petersburg. From there she took a bus to the Finnish border the next day. “There were a lot of men on the bus, almost all because of the mobilization,” Olga remembers. From Finland she flew to Stockholm, and from there, thanks to a valid visa, to Berlin, where relatives picked her up.

When asked why she left Russia, Olga frankly says: “I don’t want people to suffer. I don’t want families to split up. I have relatives in Ukraine who I haven’t seen for many years due to the political situation. How am I supposed to go to war there? If I speak my mind, I’ll go to jail for discredit or extremism. I don’t want to be involved with government policies that corner people.”

In Germany, Olga, who speaks German, wants to find work quickly, but this is currently not possible due to her visa. “I’m ashamed to apply for asylum and live on social assistance,” she says, regretting that no authority has been able to help her so far: “My visa is expiring and that’s a problem.”

Artjom works as a volunteer in a German agency that helps with the preparation of documents for studying or looking for a job in Germany. On February 24, the team decided to offer free counseling to Ukrainians. And since Putin’s mobilization, those who are threatened with conscription in Russia have also been helped.

Artem has advised dozens of Russians since September 21. “In the beginning we worked 16 hours a day, sometimes even more. We listened to the stories of people who stood at the borders and told what hell was going on there,” says Artjom. “The average age is 28.5 years. The youngest was 17, the oldest 54,” says Artjom. He says about half are doctors. According to him, in Russia doctors are simply called up, regardless of their specialty.

“In Germany there is a moratorium on deportations to Russia, which means that if a person comes here and applies for political asylum, they will not be deported,” explains Artjom, adding: “Anyone who wants to apply for political asylum in Germany must either Enter with a visa and apply for asylum here, or if you don’t have a visa, book a flight ticket with a connection in Germany.”

Artyom recommends taking Frankfurt Airport, where the transit zone is open 24 hours a day. “A person who is transferring can tell a police officer that they want to apply for political asylum. You can only be sent from Germany to another country if that country has issued you a visa and is therefore responsible for you,” explains Artjom.

But fewer people are now seeking advice, so Artyom says: “Russians fleeing the mobilization of Russia, who don’t want to kill and who don’t want to be killed, should be allowed to enter the country, and only with a Russian identity card, without a visa and passport. You should just let people get on the plane. Everyone is willing to help each other, you just have to let people in.”

Adaptation from the Russian: Markian Ostapchuk

Author: Elya Novopashennaya

How to treat Ukrainians? – Russian war refugees: right to asylum in Germany?

The original for this article “Russian deserters in Germany” comes from Deutsche Welle.